Konotop, Ukraine History of the Region, Town, and Jewish Community

Konotop history began during the commencement of the Romanov Dynasty,iv which lasted from 1613 to 1917. The Imperial reign of Peter the Great followed from 1689 to 1725 when Russia controlled territories as far south as the Sea of Azov (1696) and then expanded eastward to Siberia. Kamchatka was captured in 1697. St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 and became the Russian capital in 1713. Russia fought the Ottomans in 1710—1711 and Sweden in 1704—1709. Next Russia acquired the territories of Livonia, Estonia, Karelia, and Ingria, from the Swedes in the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Peter became Emperor of Russia in 1713 and went to war with Persia (1722—1723), China (1727), and again with Turkey in 1738—1739. Emigrants from Hesse, the Rhineland, Palatinate, Saxony, Wuerttemberg, and Switzerland, settled in separate villages along the Volga and Don Rivers from1763—1768 and the Dnieper River in 1780. Another Russo-Turkish war was fought in 1768 and again in 1787—1792 at the same time as the Russo-Swedish war in 1787—1790. Poland was partitioned three times and occupied by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, in 1792, 1794, and 1795. Finally, Crimea was annexed by Russia in 1783.

The events surrounding the three Partitions of Poland had a profound effect upon the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. By annexing eastern Lithuania-Poland, Russia had acquired about two million Jewish inhabitants.

Since the 14th century, Jews had been forbidden to live in Russia. Weakened by the wars with the Ottomans, Poland-Lithuania became vulnerable to its neighbors. In the region newly occupied by Russia, Empress Catherine the Great was persuaded by both the clergy and Christian businessmen to eliminate the Jews from its acquired territories. In several Imperial Ukases (decrees), Catherine created an area in which Jews would be restricted to live and work. The area extended from Lithuania to Romania and was called the Pale of Settlement. Eighty percent of all Jews in the world lived in that region. Jews were evicted from large cities and were often forced to leave without their possessions. Businesses were confiscated, and many were financially ruined. Poverty became widespread. Many Jews were forced to migrate southward to smaller towns and villages, while some moved to Odessa, Turkey, and Western Europe.

By the time of the Partitions of Poland (1772—1795), Konotop was still a small town with few inhabitants. However, in 1789 the town enjoyed a new coat of arms. The 19th century brought forth several Russian and European conflicts that affected Konotop. Russia had fought again with the Ottomans in 1806 and Sweden in 1808—1809, after which Russia acquired Finland and Bessarabia (1812). Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, but was defeated in 1815. Peace was restored after the Congress of Vienna. By 1828 an outbreak of war with Turkey recurred and the Treaty of Adrianople restored peace.

In 1830, a major Polish revolution occurred causing many German inhabitants to flee eastward to Volhynia (Western Ukraine). By the 1840’s many colonists became prosperous. This was a great achievement after the terrible years during the 1830’s in which there had been drought, ruined agriculture, and widespread famine and disease. The Crimean War between Russia and Turkey lasted from 1854—1856, the same time that a severe cholera epidemic raged in Russia. Serfs were finally emancipated in 1858 following which Russian lands were redistributed. The last major Polish uprising occurred in 1863 and was put down by the Russians. German inhabitants flooded into Volhynia. Further revolt arose in Poland. Yet another war with Turkey started in 1878 that was settled by the Congress of Berlin. Czar Alexander II, who had treated Jews more liberally, was assassinated in 1881. Numerous pogroms swept across Southern Russia when Alexander III succeeded as Czar. He was ruthlessly anti-Semitic.

Restrictive “May Laws” were decreed in 1881 that penalized Jews severely. Famine developed in the 1880’s that was associated with harsh weather and freezing conditions. As a result, agricultural methods in Russia deteriorated. The development of railroads had a significant impact upon both the Russian population generally and the town of Konotop specifically. In 1851 the railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow was opened. In 1859 the railroad connected Kiev and Voronezh. From 1891 to 1903, the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed. In addition, there were many other rail lines coursing through the Empire. Konotop, which had earlier enjoyed excellent commercial success by transporting and trading goods over poor dirt roads, became a major rail center with connections to Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa, as well as to Brody (Austria/Galicia), Vienna, and other European cities.

When Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, Jews were specifically accused, which resulted in increased anti-Semitic violence against the innocent. By 1907, the largest Jewish immigration in history to America, Canada, and Western Europe transpired. The Romanov Dynasty ended with the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Russia became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic incorporating the region of Konotop, Ukraine. Under Stalin (1924) farms and businesses of the former empire were collectivized and ownership transferred to the Soviet. Large-scale liquidations of Russian, Ukrainian, and minority populations resulted.

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